Estée Lauder died 11 years ago, but the cosmetics empire she launched 58 years earlier has thrived and still remains under family control.

Josephine Esther Mentzer was born in Queens, New York, to Jewish immigrants, but she was embarrassed by her modest origins, changed her name to Estée to sound French and often invented a wealthy background to which she aspired.

Fascinated by her chemist uncle’s home-concocted skincare creams, she helped market them to local pharmacies. After setting up the Estée Lauder brand in 1946 with her husband Joseph Lauter (later changed to Lauder) she decided to sell her own creams, cooked up on a stove at home, to upmarket department stores. Her breakthrough came when Saks Fifth Avenue placed an order that sold well, and accelerated with the launch of Youth Dew.

Key achievements

  • Lauder was the only woman on Time magazine’s 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century
  • Lauder was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • She was inducted to the Junior Achievement US Business Hall of Fame in 1988

Lessons for your store

  1. Be proactive – In Lauder’s biography she said she didn’t succeed by dreaming or thinking about things, but by doing them.
  2. Be ambitious – Lauder once said she never worked a day in her life without selling.
  3. Your business is what you invent it to be – from her name change to her company name, Lauder crafted her business and reputation to how she wanted it to be perceived, not on historical fact.